“Only you,” a friend said when I told her I had been asked to speak at a fundraiser for a cancer research foundation. I had just moved back to Detroit two days earlier and serendipitously met the director of the foundation. The fundraiser was a fashion show based on the themes of the Wizard of Oz—brains, courage, heart and home. I was asked to speak about home. I shared the following story about my coming home:
My cousin Marlene was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October, 2008. She and her husband lived in Phoenix, AZ, and I visited them the following May. By then, Marlene had finished traditional treatment and was enrolled in an experimental protocol.
“Why don’t you go home?” I asked Marlene.
“I am going to beat this,” she said, “and if I go home, that is like saying I am going to die.”
“No,” I said. “You can go home and beat this there or not, but you will be with family.”
At home, in Michigan, Marlene had children, grandchildren, siblings and our large extended family. But, she would not consider my suggestion. Seven months after my visit, Marlene died in Arizona.
Marlene’s illness and death rocked me and made me reconsider my own situation. I, too, was living away from family, and I began to wonder what would happen if I became seriously ill. I came to realize that once Marlene got sick, it was impossible for her to move home because she had neither the physical nor emotional strength needed for such a move.
I soon decided that I wanted to move home to Michigan, and I shared my decision with my friend Jim. One week after that, Jim had a seizure and was diagnosed with a very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. He had had no symptoms.
He underwent surgery, chemo and radiation to extend his life; but we knew from the beginning that he would not live long.
Jim asked me to help him to live until he died. He did not want to be kept alive or to live or die in the hospital. He lived with me the last seven months of his life and died a very peaceful death on April 3, 2012, at home, with his dog by his side.
During Jim’s illness, we often talked about how important it is to know where we are “at home.” We also talked about my moving back to Michigan to be near my family.
Three weeks ago, I moved home. I was fortunate to get a job at the Mercy Education Project, a literacy program in Detroit, which is the same work I had been doing in Philadelphia. I sold my house in Pennsylvania within two weeks, and I have already bought a house here.
I take all of these as signs that I am in the right place, and I agree with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: “There is no place like home.”